He’s the Jack Kirby of Generation X, wielding both Winsor Newton brush and electric guitar with propulsion and panache. But Michael Allred, one of comics’ most prolific pop artists, whose work has graced the pages of virtually every comics publisher, has experienced something rather odd throughout his life that even his charming characters in Madman find hard to articulate.
Han Allred, Mike’s eldest son, a musician, producer and documentary filmmaker, shares the genesis of Space Face, a documentary he’s crowdfunding on Kickstarter now, that captures the existential, otherworldly dread that afflicts his very talented, very kind, and very normal father.
Shelly Bond: When did you first notice that your dad was having these weird, out-of-body experiences?
Han Allred: It was 2003, so I would have been 18. I know this because we had gone to see Bulletproof Monk. After the movie my dad asked my mom to take him to the hospital. Looking at my dad, his eyes appeared empty, as though he wasn’t there, just an empty shell of a man. We ended up going to see my grandparents and he was given a Priesthood blessing from my Grandpa. It was scary; before my eyes, my dad, this rock of a figure, was crumbling. It felt unreal.
Bond: Was it something that you talked about at the kitchen table?
Allred: No. It was unspoken. Even to this day it feels taboo to bring up. In a way, making this film, Space Face, feels like the perfect opportunity to open up about this with my dad and the rest of my family. I think my dad and I have both found the process quite therapeutic.
Bond: How often does your Dad experience these existential episodes now?
Allred: He had the first one at age five, and they’ve happened about every five to six years. It’s been roughly that long since the last one, so there could be another on the horizon. I hope not, though. It’s really hard to see him suffer like that.
Bond: How does it affect your family, then vs. now?
Allred: It had me questioning everything.
Once, reality seemed so defined, so concrete, but after seeing my dad lose it, I lost all that. The experience had me constantly questioning my belief system, then and now. I have become more of a seeker. As for my family, it doesn’t seem to be anything my mom wants to talk about, “I don’t know anything about that existential crap.” And my siblings seem somewhat unfazed by it all.
Bond: How does it affect your world view and outlook on life and mortality?
Allred: I think that it's brought a lot more love and understanding into my life. That first experience led me to be far more curious about the perspectives of others, and in return, has made me far more empathetic.
Bond: You said that when you started the documentary, you wanted to make sure that your dad’s success as a cartoonist was the B plot. Why was that so important to you?
Allred: Honestly, I had no desire to make anything on him. I knew I wanted to make a documentary, and friends had suggested that I should do something about my dad, but the idea felt cheap to me. I didn’t want to make some fluff piece on my dad, riding his success.
In a way, I want out of his shadow, which makes this pursuit feel somewhat ironic. So, when I opened my eyes to the human story of my dad questioning his existence through these episodes, I knew this was it. This is the story I want to dive into. These are the questions I want answers for, even if they’re unanswerable.
Bond: How does religion vs. spirituality fit into the documentary?
Allred: Well, I was raised Mormon and that is a big part of my father’s upbringing. That episode in 2003 had him thinking that he was being punished by God for not committing fully to the church, so he went all in. He even made that Book of Mormon comic book adaptation, The Golden Plates. Since then I’ve seen him transcend beyond Mormonism to what I consider to be more spiritual than religious.
Bond: What about philosophy vs. art?
Allred: I wouldn’t say so much “philosophy vs. art” but the philosophy of the artist. At its core, the movie is about seeking the meaning to life, if there’s even any meaning. So in the interviews I’ve conducted I’m asking just that, among other existential questions. Honestly, at first I felt dumb asking such questions, but the respones compelled me to keep digging.
Bond: Who are some of the celebrities involved with Space Face?
Allred: I’m so grateful for all the amazing people who have tagged along on this project. I’ve already captured a lot of great interviews with Kevin Smith, Brian Bendis, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, Craig Thompson, and so many more. Check out www.spacefacemovie.com for a list of those already involved. I also have many more talented folks lined up.
Bond: How does the documentary touch on the universal themes of loneliness, mortality and what happens post this mortal coil?
Allred: My father’s greatest fear is the idea that life doesn’t end. “Infinity without progression” is how he’ll describe this fear. I know that this may seem crazy to most because people tend to be afraid that it does end. Death and what that entails is certainly a focus. Loneliness too.
My father has a loving wife/partner, a close family, a lot of dear friends, and even dedicated fans, yet in spite of all this, these episodes bring on a great deal of suffering and loneliness. How can one get so lonely with so many great people around to love and support you? These are all aspects I am keen on diving into.
Bond: What will this documentary offer to the medium?
Allred: On the surface, Space Face may just seem to be another comic book/art documentary, but at the core it’s about seeking life’s meaning, if it has a meaning. I hope this film provokes others to ponder their own and inspires them to make the most of it. After all, we’re all gonna die. I think that’s a good thing to keep in perspective.
Bond: How does music and pop culture play a part?
Allred: I couldn’t make a movie about my dad that wasn’t dripping with references to music and pop culture, especially Bowie. In fact, I think Bowie is a much bigger factor in my dad’s story then one may assume. Also, as far as the score goes, I’m composing music for the film and I also hope to get some new the Gear tunes in the works with my dad, my brother, and my sister-in-law
Bond: What’s the most profound thing you’ve discovered so far about yourself in the making of Space Face?
Allred: Just how much suffering can play a role in personal development. I’ve gone through a lot of hard life changes over the last two years, from the end of a 14-year marriage and the loneliness that follows such a loss, to falling deeply in love with an amazing woman who wasn’t ready to reciprocate those feelings. Because of all these challenges, I've had to do a great deal of inner work and I feel very grateful for where that has brought me with both this film and life in general.
Bond: What’s the most profound thing you’ve discovered about your dad?
Allred: I’ve come across some crazy things about my dad I would never have known, but ultimately, the most profound thing would be that he’s only human.
Bond: The most shocking?
Allred: I had no idea just how close my dad had come to killing someone, handgun and all, and how fate played a role in that, forever changing his life. This is a pretty wild story and it brought us to tears.